Barbiturate Abuse: Warning Signs and Risks

barbiturate addiction
Category: recovery

Barbiturates like Seconal and Pentothal are sedatives that became popular in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s for treating anxiety, insomnia and seizures. Though barbiturate use has declined in recent decades because benzodiazepines have emerged as a safer alternative, barbiturates remain a backup treatment for people who do not respond well to other forms of tranquilizers.

What Do Barbiturates Do?

Barbiturates slow down brain activity by releasing a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid. In small doses, this medication can make people relaxed, euphoric and drowsy. Larger doses can cause anger, anxiety, slurred speech, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. The risk of injuries from discoordination also increases.

Barbiturates aren’t as widespread or easy to come by as they were in years past because most doctors now prefer to prescribe benzodiazepines. However, many of these drugs still see widespread use for specific conditions. For example, phenobarbital is common for treating seizures that resist other medications.

Barbiturate Abuse Is Rising

Barbiturates are much rarer these days because they have a high potential for addiction and are dangerously unpredictable. Even a slight overdose can cause coma or death. However, younger generations may not remember the health problems barbiturates caused in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, so they could underestimate these drugs.

While the popularity of barbiturate abuse has declined, these drugs are still as dangerous as ever. Short-term use can cause significant changes in brain function and structure. People who abuse barbiturates are at elevated risk for side effects like these.

  • Tolerance, dependence and addiction: Medication tolerance is when your body becomes accustomed to a drug, meaning you need higher doses to achieve the same effects. Dependence occurs when you rely on a drug so much that you experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit taking it. Addiction is a persistent compulsion to use more barbiturates, despite adverse consequences.
  • Heart and breathing disruptions: Like alcohol, barbiturates are central nervous system depressants that suppress vital bodily functions like your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.
  • Accidental overdose: Barbiturate overdose often involves polysubstance use. Combining these drugs with alcohol or opioids can cause respiratory failure.

Overcoming Barbiturate Addiction With Accredited Treatment

Barbiturates have a very narrow therapeutic-to-toxic window – in other words, there’s only a slight difference between a dose that merely makes you drowsy and a dose that can lead to life-threatening consequences like coma or death. Due to barbiturates’ highly addictive nature and extreme withdrawal symptoms, they are one of the most dangerous drugs to try quitting cold turkey.

Overcoming a barbiturate addiction should begin with medical detoxification to remove all traces of the drug from your brain and body. Trained clinical professionals will monitor your vital signs around the clock and help you withdraw safely. Once you are stable, you will need to progress into long-term therapy and treatment to recover from this dangerous addiction.

Inpatient detox and residential rehab in a hospital setting give you the best chance of overcoming barbiturate addiction. At Hemet Valley Recovery Center, we provide a comfortable, homelike environment and use drug-specific detox protocols to ensure a healthy experience. When you contact us, our admissions team is ready to answer any questions you may have about the process.